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updated: 2/9/2012 9:12 PM

Conant's Pincenti shows grace under pressure

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  • Conant bowler Sam Pincenti preps for this weekend's state tournament.

      Conant bowler Sam Pincenti preps for this weekend's state tournament.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Conant bowler Sam Pincenti at practice this week.

      Conant bowler Sam Pincenti at practice this week.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Conant bowler Sam Pincenti practices with her team in Hoffman Estates this week.

      Conant bowler Sam Pincenti practices with her team in Hoffman Estates this week.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

By Bill Esbrook
Daily Herald Correspondent

The last several days have been an emotional rollercoaster ride for Conant bowler Samantha Pincenti.

The senior and her teammates had excelled at last weekend's Resurrection sectional tournament and at one point thought they had a team advancement to the state finals wrapped up, but a tremendous sixth-game performance by Mid-Suburban League rival Hoffman Estates saw the Cougars fall short by just

8 pins.

It was a bitter blow to Pincenti and her teammates, one which was lessened somewhat by the individual advancement to the tournament at Rockford of the senior and her junior teammate Courtney Slavich.

"I honestly thought we had it," said Pincenti, a team captain. "We were so close, and it hurt so bad that we didn't make it. We should be going there as a team.

"I was excited to qualify as an individual but it was a very bitterweet feeling and I know Courtney felt the same."

Slavich, a junior, learned of her qualification on Saturday. It wasn't that easy for Pincenti. She bowled exceptionally well at the sectional, yet despite posting an impressive score of 1,103 pins knocked down, found herself on the at-large qualifier list.

A total of 72 bowlers make the at-large list, but only 6 of those qualify for state based on all the sectional scores.

On Saturday, though, Pincenti was focused on things other than herself.

"It was so emotional (due to the Cougars falling short as a team), we weren't even thinking about individuals. But then we saw that Courtney

made it and I was right behind her, and people were telling me 'You have

the potential to go too.' "

Since the final at-large results weren't announced by the IHSA until Monday, it was a nerve-wracking weekend for Pincenti as she wondered if she'd make her first trip to the state tourney.

"I wasn't sure if it would happen or not," the senior said. "I was doing the math, and my coaches were doing the math, but I didn't want to get my hopes up."

Pincenti found out that it did happen on Monday afternoon when she checked the IHSA website. The fact that the stellar senior would be headed to Cherry Bowl Lanes to compete against the best didn't suprise coach Jennifer Mikrut one bit.

"Sam is precisely the kind of athlete a coach wants," said Mikrut. "She's a leader, she's dedicated and focused, she works hard and is an all-around great person.

"By demonstrating leadership skills and her passion to be a successful bowler, she has become a role model to the younger members of our team."

Being a captain and taking on a leadership role this season has been something Pincenti took extremely seriously.

"It was very important to me that my coaches trusted me and depended on my input," said the senior, "and I tried to be the best leader I could be -- but I didn't want to overdo it. I wanted to be sure that my teammates respected me as a player and I didn't want to give the impression that I was superior to them."

Now Pincenti, who plans to enroll at Northern Illinois in the fall with a major in nursing, will make a well deserved trip to Rockford this weekend for her final two days of prep bowling.

"It hasn't hit me yet," said Pincenti of the fact that her days of high school competition are coming to an end. "This season has been a struggle for me -- it's basically been one battle after another. At the sectional tourney, I knew it was my last shot. I didn't have to worry about fighting to improve my average or anything like that. It was basically make it or break it."

Make it she did.

"Sam's goal this year was to get to state with her team," said Mikrut. "They fell just 8 pins short, but I couldn't be more proud of them and especially Samantha and Courtney who will be repsenting our team and our school."

And for Pincenti's part, when she reflects back on her four years of high school bowling (one that saw her advance to varsity as just a sophomore), she has no doubt about what has been the most important memory of her career.

"Making good friends," said Pincenti. "My teammates and I have become so close. It's great to be friends with a group of kids who have such good heads on their shoulders. We all have a great level of respect for each other."

The senior also knows what to expect in Rockford, and how she'll handle it.

"I've been told it's crazy there (at Cherry Bowl Lanes)," said Pincenti, "and loud, even louder than the conference tournament. But I plan to just relax and have fun."

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